A 45-day suspension without pay has been handed down to the Merchant Marine Academy professor who made a joking reference to the July Colorado movie shootings during a class attended by the son of a victim.

Greg F. Sullivan was suspended last month but given his pay as academy officials in Kings Point discussed whether he should be fired.

Less than two weeks after 12 people were killed in Colorado, Sullivan was about to show a documentary when he jokingly told students, "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit."

The academy said in a statement that the decision not to fire Sullivan came Tuesday "after careful review of all information collected as part of the process required under the federal policy governing academy faculty and staff."

"The academy's first priority is the well-being of its students, and it will continue to work with the entire campus community to ensure its ability to train and educate the nation's future merchant mariners," the academy said.

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Sullivan did not return calls Wednesday night. He has apologized to Weston Cowden, who was in the class and whose father died in the shootings.

The cadet's mother, Melisa Cowden, said she and her son plead with academy officials not to fire the professor for a "dumb mistake."

Editor's note: The original story stated that the federal Department of Transportation, which oversees the Merchant Marine Academy, provided the statement. The statement was provided by the academy.